Winter School on Changing Grounds: Dynamics of Culture and Livelihood

Report of Graduate Workshop/Winter School on Changing Grounds: Dynamics of Culture and Livelihood, Department of Humanities & Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, 11-15 February 2019

The Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT Delhi, in collaboration with University of Groningen (the Netherlands) and Goethe University Frankfurt (Germany), organized a Winter School/Graduate Workshop on “Changing Grounds: Dynamics of Culture and Livelihood” during 11-15 February 2019. An open call for proposals was sent out. We received applications from around 80 MA, M. Phil, and PhD students from different universities and institutes of India and abroad. Out of this, we selected 25 students from institutions across India and abroad, such as: IIT Madras, IIT Guwahati, IIT Gandhinagar, IIT Kanpur, Delhi University, Pondicherry University, Ambedkar University Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Tata Institute of Social Sciences Mumbai, Technical University of Munich Germany, Rajiv Gandhi University Itanagar, Tezpur University, Hyderabad Central University, World Wide Fund for Nature – India, Utkal University Odisha and Model Degree College, Nabarangpur, Odisha.

The Head of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT Delhi, Professor Purnima Singh, welcomed the students and teachers of the winter school and discussed various perspectives on change. She invited sociologists and anthropologists to also examine/discuss psychological perspectives on change. Prof. Sarbeswar Sahoo (IIT Delhi), Prof. Peter Berger (University of Groningen) and Prof. Roland Hardenberg (Goethe University Frankfurt) then provided a brief introduction and discussed the various objectives of the graduate workshop. Some of the important objectives were to understand:

1. Culture and Livelihood in the context of Social Change in the communities
2. Not just economic or social but holistic perspective to see how different aspects of social life are interconnected and interact – materiality and symbolic/cultural resources and the artificial divide
3. Interaction between the Global and the Local – Cash crop driven agriculture
4. Dichotomy between tradition and modern – Certain crops as traditional or primitive and others as modern

The first session was conducted by Professor Peter Berger in which he discussed the cultural-cum-agricultural system of highland Central India where millets and rice are both complementary and deeply ingrained in the social and religious life of the people. Prof. Berger argued that ‘economy’ and ‘culture’ cannot be understood as separate realms. Instead, both are implicated in the constitution of persons and society in an encompassing sense. Professor Roland Hardenberg conducted the next session where he discussed some of the main features of swidden cultivation in mainland South-East Asia as well as among the tribes of Odisha. Professor Richa Kumar conducted the third session of the day and discussed the agrarian transition in Malwa region of India. This was followed by some student research proposal presentations.

The day two began with a lecture by Professor Frank Heidemann on the Badagas who are the principal farming community in the Nilgiri Hills. Their main crops were grains. However, in the 20th century Badaga began cultivating cash crops. They became small grower of tea, a permanent crop, with significant changes in the social system. Professor Sarbeswar Sahoo took the second session and discussed the changing livelihood pattern among the tribal regions of Rajasthan and showed how migration has been playing an important role in this regard. According to him, there has been increasing diversification of livelihood happening as agriculture or animal rearing are no longer dominant sources of livelihood. The diversification of livelihood has also increased insecurities among people because of casualization of labour. Professor Richa Kumar conducted the third session where she discussed the history of Green Revolution in India and the nutrition puzzle. This was followed by some student research proposal presentations.

In day three, Professor Roland Hardenberg discussed the various meanings of resources. He provided a long historical and interdisciplinary approach to understanding/conceptualising ‘resources’. This was followed by Professor Rajeswari S. Raina’s lecture on millets and the meaning of agriculture where she focussed on the diverse types of farming, knowledge forms and purposes of agriculture in rainfed regions and social spaces. She also provided a historical account of agricultural policies and practices in India in post-colonial period. Professor Frank Heidemann gave the third lecture of the day where he discussed the lives of the repatriates and how their lives have changed from tea workers to homeless labourers. He also discussed how the Nilgiri District became the new home for more than one lakh “Ceylon people” and searching for a new perspective they became agricultural day-labourers, occupied vacant land, and built labour colonies. This was followed by some student research proposal presentations.

In day four, Professor Rene Cappers discussed modelling crop selection where he presented how crop selection is guided by special emphasis on ecological requirements, economic criteria and cultural traditions. This was illustrated with shifts in crop selection in Egypt. A brief introduction was also given for the classification of the cereals that are labelled as ‘millets’. This was followed by two lectures by members of Odisha Millet Mission where they discussed the ground level experience of implementing the program. In addition, Sharanya Nayak discussed the dying cultures of agriculture among adivasis of south Odisha and Aditya Singh Deo discussed seeds and farming systems of indigenous communities in southern Odisha. This was followed by some student research proposal presentations.

In day five, Professor Rene Cappers took the first session where traditional crop processing and food preparation was discussed with respect to the improvement of edibility, digestibility and shelf life of storable harvest and food products. The traditional processes were linked with the improvement of technology and were illustrated with the morphological differences between millets, rice, barley and wheat. Professor Vilas Tonapi took the second session and discussed the impact of green revolution on cultivation and consumption of millets in India. He pointed out that the green revolution ushered by high yielding varieties and purchased inputs leading to higher productivity of ‘elite’ grains of rice and wheat, coupled with their enhanced availability at subsidized price through governmental programs led to rapid decline in the per capita consumption of millets in India. Professor Venkatesh Bhat provided a historical overview of millets in India and argued that millets, historically grouped under “inferior” grains and “coarse cereals”, have become contemporary superfoods and “nutricereals”. The potential of millets in managing life-style diseases is a major factor, which is enhancing their consumption by urban and semi-urban consumers. In the last session the organizers had an informal interaction with students and took their feedback on the workshop.